Capsule Review Drama

'The Babadook' Toronto After Dark Capsule Review

October 28, 2014Ben MK


The last place you'd expect to find terror lurking is within the pages of a children's bedtime story. But sometimes the horror movies that elicit the most fear are those that draw from the most unlikely of sources. Such is the case with The Babadook, the spine-tingling debut from Australian writer/director Jennifer Kent. In it, Kent expands upon her own 2005 short, Monster, to tell the story of a widow (Essie Davis) and her six-year-old son (Noah Wiseman) who find themselves plagued by a malignant supernatural force. The question is, which is more sinister — the entity, or what it represents?

Davis is Amelia, who lost her husband in a car wreck as they drove to the hospital the night her son, Samuel (Wiseman), was born. Now, nearly seven years later, she still can't bring herself to give Samuel a proper birthday celebration, the emotional trauma exerting a constant strain on their relationship. Meanwhile, Samuel isn't making the situation any better. Always obsessing over monsters and magic, he's taken to crafting homemade weapons to defend the family home against imaginary intruders. The tension comes to a head after Samuel pulls a mysterious book — entitled "Mr. Babadook" — off the shelf one night, and Amelia begins reading it to him, unknowingly inviting its title character to torment their lives.

Unlike many genre entries these days, The Babadook relies neither on jump scares nor gore to frighten audiences. For although the premise seems like the ideal set-up for Nightmare on Elm Street style storytelling, Kent takes the movie in another, equally unsettling direction altogether. Focusing its attention inward, much of the terror she paints on-screen is psychological, rooted in Amelia's fragile psyche; which isn't to say that the sight of Mr. Babadook himself — an amalgamation of Nosferatu's Count Orlok, Dark City's Strangers and Freddy Krueger — won't give you the shivers. But when it comes to lasting impact, it's Davis and Wiseman's performances that will haunt you long after the end credits roll.

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